Why Are Students Protesting In Venezuela?

The last week has seen continuous protests in many cities of Venezuela. The international community has become aware of these protests, but what is ...

Feb 22, 2014

The last week has seen continuous protests in many cities of Venezuela. The international community has become aware of these protests, but what is really going on? Who is protesting and for what reasons? In order to understand the current events, we must first shed some light on Venezuela’s social and political context particularly of the last year.
Since 1998 Venezuela’s government has been led by a vision commonly referred to as the “Chavista revolution.” The cost-benefit analysis of the last 15 years is one that requires an extensive examination that will not be addressed in this piece. The so-called revolution has sustained itself for a long time, primarily on the never-ending petrodollars of a country that is increasingly dependent on its resources. The private production sector has virtually disappeared — not to say persecuted and driven away — in the last decade. The populist support for the so-called revolution that brought them to power has significantly decreased in the past years.
According to official reports, the president and leader of the revolution, Hugo Chávez, passed away on March 5, 2013. Elections were held the following April of 2013. Governor of Miranda Henrique Capriles stepped up as the candidate for the opposition. Capriles' campaign emphasized left-wing policies, Brazil-inspired progressivism, support to national production, the creation of jobs, political inclusion and education. Capriles' political discourse had undertones of Chavez's style, in an attempt to appeal to the working classes and capture the portion of the population that had supported Chavez, but was unsatisfied with the current state of affairs.
On April 14, 2013, Nicolás Maduro won the presidential elections by a short margin of 1.8%. Capriles rejected the results and presented evidence of irregularities in the election process to national courts, however judicial action never materialized. Frustrated by the state of the country and the illegitimate nature of Maduro’s presidency, many sectors of the opposition were ready to take to the streets. Nevertheless, Capriles decided to reject this method, since protests in the past have only fueled the government’s narrative of an antidemocratic opposition guided by U.S. and bourgeoisie interests.
In the last year, the decline in the country’s socioeconomic state has become evident to all divisions of Venezuelan society. Although many choose not to associate themselves with the opposition due to the polarized narrative that has been cynically threaded by the government, the majority of the country, including myself, is unsatisfied with the current ruling party.
        The current protests were sparked by the events in Tachira, a state bordering Colombia that has experienced the tougher end of the controls and restrictions forced by this government. The students of the region took to streets Feb. 6, 2014 to protest the rape of a female student by a police officer, as well as to show their general discontent with the poor living conditions and the repressive nature of the government.
Opposition leaders Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, unsatisfied with Capriles’ passive approach, called for protests for Feb. 12. The deaths of three students on that date further fueled the student movement to remain in the streets. Nicolas Maduro pointed to Leopoldo López as the cause of violence, and a few days later Lopez gave himself up to the authorities and was imprisoned. Students have vowed to remain on the streets until government repression stops and all the students imprisoned in recent days are released. In addition to this, they continue to call for the disarmament of paramilitary and militia groups that are intimidating and assassinating students.
As a student, I stand with solidarity with the youth movement. Historically, students have played an essential role in the history of our nation, refreshing and reshaping the political status quo. The Orwellian reality of the nation comes down to oppression by those in power and by those who are compliant with the status quo — both in the government and in the opposition — and to a population being driven to a more and more impoverished reality.  I mourn the deaths of the victims in the last weeks and call for peace in the protest, rejecting all acts of violence from all sectors.
In my opinion, the problem of these protest is the shift of attention to the protests from the real issues lived by Venezuelans: rampant violence and impunity, a lack of basic products, immense rates of inflation, a control exchange taking away all the purchasing power of the lower and middle classes, high unemployment, bad medical system and access to medicines, among many other issues.
I fear that the lack of focus in some protests, driven by frustration and not political objectives, could alienate the portion of possible opposition supporters that are soft chavistas from getting involved. The priority is to topple the dictatorship, but it should be done in a way that ensures the restoration of democracy and the inclusion of the masses. If the protests fail to incorporate and unite the wider population, it is only a matter of time for them to dissipate.
Nevertheless, I must say that if I were presently in Venezuela, I would be out in the streets, next to my generation of students, next to those friends who grew up holding a flag for Liberty. Maybe the time to refresh the corrupt system is yet to come, but the fight is worth fighting. We reject interventionism both from Cuba and the USA. International support and awareness is needed, but Venezuelans stand always in defense of their autonomy. Yes to non-violent means, and yes to a better future in which the polarization dissipates. We can create a better Venezuela where we all fit as the brothers we are in the creation of a nation. Peace and Strength to the students, Fraternity and Reconciliation to the nation.
Gabriel Burgazzi is a contributing writer. Email him at 
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